Forever stuck in old ways? Pluralising incumbencies in sustainability transitions

Bruno Turnheim, Benjamin K. Sovacool

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this Viewpoint, we argue that transitions research needs to engage more firmly with the role of incumbents and various forms of incumbencies. We identify shortcomings of existing research, notably a tendency to portray incumbents as ‘villains’ wedded to resisting, slowing down or preventing transition efforts. With that in mind, the Viewpoint briefly summarises shortcomings within existing research and proposes four steps for pluralising the discussion. We call attention to more emphasis on 1) a multiplicity of incumbent actor types, 2) a variety of actor strategies within (and across) organisational populations, 3) the transient nature of strategic positioning (over time), and 4) the varied resources that incumbents may deploy to support transformative change.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Innovation and Societal Transitions
Early online date22 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Incumbency
  • Innovation
  • Socio-technical transitions
  • Sustainability transitions


Dive into the research topics of 'Forever stuck in old ways? Pluralising incumbencies in sustainability transitions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this